About 70% of the more than 31,000 defectors who have made it to South Korea since the end of the Korean War are women, according to the government’s Ministry of Unification. That figure has climbed in recent years, reaching about 80% from 2014-2016, and 85% this year.
Accurate information from North Korea is difficult to obtain to understand why women defect in higher numbers, but experts point to several factors:
-One key reason is a strong demand for North Korean women in neighboring China as arranged brides in a country where men outnumber women by more than 33 million, and for the sex industry.
-Sokeel Park, the Seoul-based director of research and strategy for Liberty in North Korea, an organization that helps rescue North Korean refugees hiding in China, said North Korean women also may have a better chance of staying under the radar and working informally in China in restaurants and factories.
-Women also have a significantly lower social status than men in North Korea, which allows them to remain further out of sight from authorities, said Heather Barr, a senior researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
-Women are key movers of an informal market that sprang up after the near collapse of North Korea’s economy in the 1990s. Barr said this gives women greater access to the networks of brokers who can arrange passage to China.
-Also motivating some women to escape has been access to information about the world outside North Korea. Many popular South Korean programs that make their way into North Korea are known as K-dramas — glamorous soap operas targeted to female audiences.